I had never felt as impassioned as I do now, to eradicate gender-based stereotypes, until I had my son. Prior to him, I subscribed to those stereotypes. Not by choice, but rather out of convention. It was what I grew up knowing — whether from the media, my peers, and/or my environment. It’s one of those things you just grow up believing in and can’t remember a time when you didn’t. But in raising my son, my world has completely changed. I am watching this little human learn things for the first time; everything, actually. And through watching him learn, I have learned too. I have learned just how impressionable young children are and that everything from gender-based stereotypes to racism is taught. Children aren’t born to see pink and blue. They don’t see boy toys and girl toys, until they’re told to — until they’re physically restricted from playing with certain toys because of their gender. And when you are a boy, those restrictions are even harsher. In recent history, young girls have been empowered and encouraged to play with whatever toy they like, play whatever sport they like, and be whoever they like. That’s amazing and I support that effort. But often times, those same sentiments aren’t shared for boys.
Last year my boyfriend took Aidan and me to see Moana, the heroic tale of a beautiful, Polynesian woman who bravely set sail in pursuit of saving her village. She not only saved her village, but restored it to its ancestral, voyaging roots and became chief. Talk about a badass!? It was a stunning movie, both visually and musically, and it gave a great message. We all loved the movie! So last week, when I was buying Aidan a new sandwich holder for his lunchbox, he had a choice: Moana, Ninja Turtles, the Minions, and Paw Patrol. Much to my surprise, he picked Moana. He made his choice on his own and he was proud of it and I was proud of him. But just a few days ago he came home and told me that some boys at school and at his after school program teased him for having a “girly” sandwich holder. Mind you, the holder is blue and green with a picture of Moana on the front. So by conventional standards, it doesn’t have “girl” colors, i.e. pink or purple, but the picture of a female character inherently makes it “girly” and thus, inappropriate for a boy to have. Now maybe I should have seen this coming. I can’t assume that everybody will think the same way I do, but I just figured that in 2017 we were moving away from ideas like that. Too idealistic? Sure. But I’ve raised my son to see past that. I asked Aidan was he OK and what did he say, and he said, “Yeah, I’m fine. They’re just silly. I told them it’s not just for girls, boys can have it too! Moana is cool!” I almost teared up, I was so proud of my baby.
This wasn’t the first time we addressed gender-based stereotypes. When he was five, we were at an art fair and in the kid’s area they had a nail painting station. He saw another little boy and girl getting their nails painted and wanted the same thing. In his five-year old mind, he didn’t see a “girl” hobby. He saw cool colors being painted on your nails, just like you would paint a picture. So I empowered my child and supported his harmless desire to get them painted. I received a little backlash, but for the most part, my peers were very accepting. And it was at that moment that I made the conscious decision to always support and encourage my son in whatever hobbies or interests he has, regardless if they’re “appropriate” for his gender. He loves Legos, video games, robots, action figures, super heroes, cars, and badass female characters and you know what…that’s OK!
When we program our children at a young age to think a certain way or to do certain things based on their gender, we limit them in so many ways! We limit their creativity, we limit their capabilities, and we limit their perceptions. We create these boundaries and restrictions for no other reason than because it’s “normal” or that’s “just the way it is.” I say forget that! Raise your children to be independent thinkers. Raise your children to be adventurous. But most importantly, raise your children to be kind and to practice tolerance. Even if you still believe that there are definitely boy toys and girl toys, at least encourage your children to be accepting of those who don’t prescribe or subscribe to that same way of thinking. Because shaming other kids for “girly” toys is so last century.
Photo: source unknown.